They CAN build accomplish PBL in the target language!

They CAN build something meaningful in the target language!

Thanks to all our dedicated #LangChat twitter participants who shared great ideas and resources on PBL (project-based learning) in the world language classroom. Thanks especially to the moderators, Don Doehla and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@dr_dmd and @SECottrell). Below you’ll find an overview of the discussion we had Thursday night with all the main points that participants shared. You can read the entire archive here.

We had an insightful conversation on project-based learning, including:
  • participants’ ideas of what exactly this method is
  • examples of successful projects, and
  • how to implement it in the classroom (including how to win parents’ approval).

Participants also shared a TON of resources on project-based learning–be sure to check out their suggestions below!

The PBL Method

At its base, project-based learning is using projects in the classroom to further learning and the demonstration of learning, says @dr_dmd. It’s heavily connected to performance-based assessment as a way to demonstrate second language proficiency, but is also a great teaching method. There are seven essential elements to a project, according to the project-based learning model:
  1. A need to know
  2. A driving question
  3. Student voice and choice
  4. Twenty-first century skills
  5. Inquiry and innovation
  6. Feedback and revision
  7. A publicly presented product


How Often Should We Use Projects in the World Language Classroom?

Teachers use project-based learning in a variety of schedules.
  • “I typically teach a thematic unit that includes a project as part of the unit assessment.” @dr_dmd
  • “I like to include a project for each topic where the students combine all the new material they have learned.” @profesorM
  • “I model the projects in small pieces throughout the unit. This helps students to see the big picture more quickly.” @kaleestahr
  • “We dedicate all of spring to presentations so that students spend the entire semester just talking, with less emphasis on writing.” @cadamsf1

Should PBL Replace Tests as Assessment Tools?

Many teachers were excited at the idea of using project-based learning as formal assessments, without the use of other tests. Other participants said that there is still room for tests in the classroom, but to assess other elements of a student’s proficiency.
  • “I don’t use your typical tests. Instead, my students’ performance assessments for projects have a grade and are listed and considered as tests.” @SECottrell
  • “I use Realidades to create project-based learning assessments in lieu of the standard textbook tests.” @kaleestahr
  • “I still use written tests to assess accuracy of expression, but also like the idea of performance assessments having a formal grade and being considered as tests. It’s important to ask, ‘What can the students DO with the language?'” @dr_dmd


Presenting Project-based Learning to Parents

Several teachers mentioned that it’s sometimes difficult to effectively sell project-based learning as an assessment method to parents, especially for new teachers, and shared their thoughts on how to do so.
  • “I think, as a new teacher, when you can support your reasons for your approach, parents don’t question you. It’s all about support.” @kaleestahr
    • “This is even easier if you also have support from administrators (@mmebrady), and you can get administration support by showing them the results.” (@dr_dmd).
  • “Parents must see the seventh element of the project-based learning method in order to buy in: 7) A publicly presented product. Parents are convinced when they see the results! Students’ products are evidence of LEARNING–not test scores, which are abstract.” @dr_dmd
    • “I agree. My students’ Web sites at the end of the semester, instead of finals, were a big hit with parents.” @cadamsf1
  • “I think part of it has to be keeping students and parents both informed on proficiency standards and expectations.” @SECottrell
    • “We talk about students presenting their work publicly–maybe teachers can present rubrics, project-based learning descriptions, etc., publicly too.” @pamwesely
    • “We are going to have a seminar at the beginning of the semester in order to help parents understand how language learning happens.” @cadamsfl


Examples of Successful Projects to Use in the World Language Classroom:

@dr_dmd shared a Level 1 example of PBL: students make a menu for a restaurant, write a script for the scene and video the presentation.  As for finding the authentic audience, he mentioned using to share and create stories with other countries. Students can create comic strips, manga, poems, short stories and videos to share with epals in French-speaking countries. Students post stories, then their counterparts can read and comment in them. Don said, “Here we have examples of real communication, spontaneous and FUN!”

Several others shared examples:

  • “I like to give choices for projects to the students. This plays on their strengths and the results are usually much better than when I don’t.” @MmeNero
  • “My students make Google sites right now as their assessments.” @cadamsf1
  • “I’m loving Google Apps for sharing, editing and collaborating student work. Also, for an AP project students promoted a certain town to be a stage of the Tour de France. We learned about cycling and topography in France and loved it! Another suggestion is to have students do a review of a French movie for a French-speaking audience.” @madamebaker
  • “For a natural disaster unit, have students make a journal of the aftermath including news reports and movie trailers.” @kaleestahr
  • “Have students make a Vocaroo describing a sporting event on YouTube. Or let students make a Linoit to describe three sports, including pictures of athletes and videos.” @ProfesorM
  • “I had my students phone in their AP oral presentations–so great to review them on my iPod.” @SECottrell
  • Students benefit from “chunking” steps to projects. Some good tools are:
  • What’s not good? Many teachers expressed their dislike of scripts for use in presentations. As @dr_dmd summed up: No scripts for project-based learning presentations. Only a note card or PPT to guide a speech, for example.
Project-based Learning Resources:
Thanks again to all the participants, and be share to join us next week for another informative discussion! In the meantime, be sure to visit and contribute to @dr_dmd’s wiki on project-based learning at


Thanks to all our dedicated #LangChat twitter participants who shared great ideas and resources on conducting authentic assessments in the language classroom. We had a lively discussion on what exactly is authentic assessment, how to plan for it, and which techniques have proven successful.

Authentic Assessment in the World Language ClassroomWhat is Authentic Assessment?

Authentic refers to real-life situations. Several participants stated that for an assessment to be authentic, the situation must be believable–or even be real. Finding students a real audience (such as native target-language speakers) is key to being able to properly assess and motivate them.

@tmsaue1 related how he once heard that “make believe” is not authentic. Several teachers questioned how you can get away from “make believe” activities in the classroom, though. Unfortunately, classroom limits often make pretending unavoidable. Sometimes you have to imagine what life “could be like if…,” but you can make that as realistic and relevant as possible (@CalicoTeach). The point might be to give students a role that makes sense for them, without having to go to great lengths to pretend (@SraSpanglish).

In general, think of authentic assessments as functional–can students fulfill a real-life task? (@lovemysummer)

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How Can We Design Authentic Assessments?

Since we teach in a classroom, creating truly authentic assessments is a challenge. Participants had some handy advice on how to work around these limitations.

  • Several people mentioned taking an otherwise unauthentic situation, such as being a waiter at a French restaurant or an emcee at a fashion show, and changing it to match something students could conceivably do. Examples included imagining you’re hosting a dinner party for French guests (@CalicoTeach) or creating conversations along the line of “Did you see what she was wearing!?” (@SraSpanglish).
  • Use backwards design. Start with the end goal in mind (what do you want students to do) and then design the assessment. Also imagine: If students are in the target culture, will they have to do this? @suarez712002
  • Try having your students create their own assessments either alone or with partners. This way the assessments are more authentic, and the students really get engaged. @mthornton78
  • Let kids be social in ways that are familiar to them for the most authentic assessment. @mmebrady
  • Several people mentioned working with classes and individuals in other countries and communities. Try Partners of the Americas for ideas (@DiegoOjeda66). Also check out getting connected to your city’s sister cities (@klafrench).

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Examples of Authentic Assessments:

Participants shared a wealth of ideas for authentic assessments! Here are some of their tips.

  • For the future tense, have students post a prediction about what other students will be doing in twenty years.
  • Have a debate or a mock election for class president. Students have to write campaign promises, make Glogster posters, and narrow the field down to two individuals for a debate. @mmebrady
  • Several teachers mentioned that they had had success having students make comic strips. The difficulty is in how you can relate the comic to real life. Try to think about the functions of the language they will use in real-life situations (@suarez712002). Have students make comic strips to explain what happens in their favorite movie. You’re assessing their ability to talk about a movie they saw–something teens do all the time (@SECottrell).
  • Use the school newsletter to provide movie or song reviews in the target language. Have students do video personal ads (for celebrities or famous characters if they prefer). Instead of basic audio scripts, try authentic radio commercials. @SraSpanglish
    • Pubzagogo is great for French commercials, although under construction at the moment. @mmebrady
  • Many ideas were shared on authentically assessing a clothing theme! Use these thoughts to personalize any vocab set you can think of:
    • I do a scavenger hunt for vocab using old clothing catalogs. @klafrench
    • Imaginary packing list for a camping trip, or figure out what your mom purchased for you by viewing the receipt. @CalicoTeach
    • Several participants suggested using department stores’ online sites for scavenger hunts or shopping sprees by giving students a list of items to buy or a set amount of (imaginary!) cash.
  • Have students plan a whole weekend for a visiting friend. They pick the city and find malls, cinemas, restaurants, and parks online. @DiegoOjeda66
  • Have students tweet native target-language-speaking students: the new pen pal? @LYRichardson
    • I tried that (tweeting)–students complained their friend followers didn’t like their Spanish tweet stream. @SECottrell
    • I’m using ePals. One good experience and one bad. @profeguerita
  • This site has tons of examples at all levels: @tmsaue1
  • Have students create websites and comment on others’ sites. Topics can include assigned reading and current events. @cadamsf1
    • I had students create mock airline sites, then use a classmate’s site to plan a trip. @mmebrady

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What are some authentic speaking tasks that we can use in the classroom?

  • Several teachers praised the benefits of using Skype or other means to partner with classes in the target language.
  • Have kids make audio podcasts for news presentations. @cadamsf1
  • Have students collaborate with other students in target language countries and work on common projects. @tmsaue1
  • Students imagine they’re downtown and someone asks how to get from your location to another site. Tell them directions necessary and recommend things to do. @lovemysummer
  • Have students record a GPS audiotrack. @mmebrady

Dealing with Online Translators in the World Language Classroom:

In addition to tons of helpful hints and ideas on using authentic assessment in the classroom, participants discuss the perils of online translators. We often want kids to jump straight from knowledge to synthesis, and they resort to online translators to cope (@mme_henderson). What can we do to prevent kids from abusing this resource?

  • @emilymccarren shared a wonderful video she made to explain the hazards to students:
  • I have past students verify that I’ll catch them 95% of the time, explain plagiarism, and emphasize simplifying language as a skill. @SraSpanglish
  • It’s obvious when students use them; they get a 0 for plagiarism. Only WordReference is allowed. @SECottrell
  • Teach students to ask for feedback from a native speaker. Students will realize there are many opportunities to put themselves out there and get assistance from native speakers; better than a computer translator. @CalicoTeach
  • Show students how bad they can be. Show them a travel brochure written in English using a translator that’s hard to understand. @fravan

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I hope you have gained some exciting new ideas from this group! Please join our weekly discussions on Twitter by searching for the #LangChat hashtag Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. Visit the Language Teachers Collaborate Wiki to share more ideas and resources with colleagues around the world and find easy access to summaries and archives of all the #LangChat topics.


What makes a language teacher effective?  That was the topic for this week’s #LangChat. Participants generally agreed that effective teachers speak the target language well (preferably at an advanced level) and also understand the target culture. Language teachers also need to be clear regarding their goals in the classroom. If your goal is to improve students’ language proficiency, then you can determine world language teacher effectiveness through measurable learning (@tmsaue1). Make sure your students understand your goals. For example, students need to understand what proficiency is and what it means to communicate (@dlfulton).

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Effective teachers are proficient.

How can we demonstrate proficiency to students? How can we set an example?

  • Show them the power of languages and how to use language effectively. @klafrench
  • Know the language we are teaching. Language teachers need to understand target culture beyond postcard knowledge. @DiegoOjeda66
  • Knowing the language is imperative, but so is knowing about second language acquisition. The fact that I am a native speaker of the language does not make me an effective teacher. @suarez712002
  • I am not a native speaker. The benefit is students see me learning new things and being frustrated, but persevering. Good lesson I think. @pjenn86
  • We have to be role models by showing students what having a passion for a language means. @klafrench

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Effective teachers inspire.

  • Effective teaching means being passionate about learning, loving kids, wanting to get them ENGAGED, and communicating. Also, helping kids to learn and not be afraid of making mistakes, trying out the new culture, and fostering tons of curiosity. @dr_dmd
  • Effective world language teachers inspire lifelong learning and show students a bigger world through experiencing cultures and peoples with language and communication. @worldlanguages
  • Effective world language teachers must motivate students to use target language whenever possible and inspire passion for language and culture! @melindamlarson
  • For middle school, being an effective teacher means getting students excited to learn the language/culture–even when it’s a mandatory class. @pjenn86
  • Effective teachers empower students. @DiegoOjeda66

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How do we inspire the kids? Many participants stressed the need for a warm, inviting class atmosphere. Mistakes should be used as a learning opportunity, not something students need fear.
What do we do?

  • We inspire, we model curiosity, we create engaging contexts for language practice and communication. @dr_dmd
  • Give students the opportunity to use the language in many ways and outside of the classroom. Help the students understand that being successful also means making mistakes. Give them permission to fail. @cadamsfl
  • Teach students to use the second language in ways that interest them–it will get them more motivated to use it outside of class! @espanolsrs
  • Effective world language teachers should also teach techniques and strategies to empower students to take risks with the target language (ex: circumlocution). @melindamlarson
  • We, as lang teachers, have to create an environment where kids feel successful no matter what. @lesliedavison

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Effective teachers see mistakes as learning opportunities.

Several people agreed that mistakes should be used as a learning opportunity in the classroom. Mistakes are part of the learning process, and students should be made to feel that mistakes are accepted and ok. Everyone makes mistakes, and the learning environment needs to be receptive to this.

@pjenn86 asked,

Do teachers always correct a pronunciation mistake right away?

  • That is not a problem as long as you do it in a respectful and sensitive manner. I do not demand that they repeat the word after the correction. @DiegoOjeda66
  • No. Depends on the situation and the child. I try to correct it where it will have the largest impact inside not outside. @cadamsfl
  • I sometimes praise mistakes, especially when they recognize and try to self-correct. If I can get the gist of what a student is saying, I try not to correct, just model. @sraoconnor
  • Correct when an error interferes with communication. When correcting focus on the “meaning.” If a student said, “I go to the movies yesterday,” say “you GO to the movies yesterday”? @suarez712002

Effective teachers are always improving.

Several participants mentioned how important it is to always be improving, both in teaching and language ability. How? Ways to do so include analyzing one’s own practices and learning from peers.

  • Effective teachers know how to be reflective about their practices. @gretafromtexas
  • Teachers must be passionate about cultivating their own language proficiencies. Teachers get to be life-long students–always learning, always curious. Passionate teachers share what they are learning as well–show what it looks like to be a learner. @dr_dmd
    • It works! I made a big one (mistake) this week. I used the opportunity to teach “comettre une erreur.” @klafrench

In the journey to improve, some participants suggested observing peers.  However, many lamented the fact that they don’t have many opportunities to observe other teachers’ language classes.

  • Effective teachers don’t have all the answers, but create environments to explore new answers from peers. @DonaKimberly
  • Key concepts of professional learning communities: 1) observing other teachers and 2) creating common assessments. @suarez712002
  • Peer observations are excellent collaboration tools, but must not be tools to make us all be the same. @dr_dmd

Effective teachers choose content wisely.

Several teachers questioned how much grammar an effective language teacher should teach in the classroom. Does being an effective language teacher mean being an effective grammar teacher? As @tmsaue1 pointed out,

Sometimes I see teachers who are very effective in delivering grammar instruction, but I don’t think that’s what we mean by effective language teacher.

Even as @sraoconnor pointed out that many colleagues do expect that kind of grammar instruction from every effective language teacher, @cadamsfl summarized the #langchat perspective that students’ grammar focus should be used “to communicate more effectively and connect with the world around them.”  @DiegoOjeda66 explicitly said, “Effective teachers do not have to teach grammar.”

What about teaching the textbook?
Several people said that they don’t use the textbook very often in class. Several others lamented colleagues who held them accountable to teaching everything in the book. Most commenters felt it’s more important to teach to the student than to the textbook. @suarez712002 emphasized that she uses the textbook as a resource. A link to an insightful blog post titled, “Teaching to Educate vs. Teaching to Test” was posted by @worldlanguages:

Effective teachers learn and use effective techniques.

Participants also shared several techniques they believe effective teachers employ.

  • @dlfulton: Be willing to give students a little content and then then step aside for a while and let students USE it. [As it’s also important to teach to the students’ differing levels,] “my lessons change/vary slightly from class to class to reflect what the students in each class need.”
  • @cadamsfl: Take advantage of what’s going on now and use the language. It helps the students to practice and use “real” language, and not the textbook. Lesson plans are always different every year because they are driven by what is happening in the world.
    • @dr_dmd: Bring the world into the classroom–so many ways to do that: pics, videos, texts from the net.
  • @DiegoOjeda66: Effective language teachers are natural born actors and are not afraid to take multiple personalities in class. They can use this to bring their own experiences to life in the classroom. @DiegoOjeda66
  • @cadamsfl: At the end of the year, we connect all of the lessons and talk about what they can do now that they couldn’t before.
    • We try to connect lessons throughout the year, not wait until the end–keep ongoing lists of “can-do’s.” @dlfulton

Visit the #LangChat Wiki for the full archive of the conversation and additional #LangChat Archive links, as well as great resources from teachers around the world.

Since this #langchat summary was published, many resources have been added to the TELL project, a collaboration dedicated to discovering and promoting elements that help language teachers be more effective.  Check it out today!